Ohio legislators, activists call for end to death penalty

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 11:54 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, faith leaders, and activists held a press conference on Tuesday to voice support for ending the death penalty in Ohio.

Those involved called for lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 103 and House Bill 183, the legislative efforts in the state to end capital punishment. The bills would end the death penalty and change the number of jurors that may be challenged in cases where defendants could be sentenced to life in prison.

While some shared religious objections to the practice, all of the speakers agreed capital punishment should be eliminated because of its historically disproportionate use against people of color.

Joia Erin Thornton, the National Policy Strategist for the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the death penalty always has and continues to be disproportionately wielded against people of color.

“Disparities in the makeup of death row are clear,” Thornton said. " Black and Latinx people represent 31% of the U.S. population but 53% of death row inmates. The death row population is 42% Black even though Black people make up about 13% of the U.S. population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.”

State Representative Stephanie Howse, a Democrat from Cleveland, said there is a responsibility for leaders to make right the criminal justice system that produces different results for individuals depending on what they look like. Up to this point, Howse claims, outside entities have committed to the working of finding justice for people who have been wrongfully convicted. She said it begs the question, “where is the government’s accountability?”

Howse said she believes the bills could pass despite previous failed efforts thanks to bipartisan support following years of continued advocacy on the part of activists and constituents who reach out to their representatives. No Republican lawmakers spoke at the virtual press conference.

Among those voicing support for the legislation is Kwame Ajamu, Chairman of Witness to Innocence. He was exonerated from death row in Ohio. He argues capital punishment does not work as a crime deterrent, making the practice an act of revenge.

“Killing one person for the killing of another person is only a revengeful act because there has never been a deterrent from the old days of the French guillotines to right now with the three-drug cocktails for capital punishment,” Ajamu said. “There will never be a time when Joe and Bobby won’t go and commit the crimes they’ve already been poised to commit.”

Others on the call said it’s not just about the impact on those sentenced to death row -- but also on those who carry out the executions. Bishop Donald Washington, the Senior Pastor at Mt. Hermon Missionary Baptist Church and minister of record for people on death row in Ohio, said the emotional toll is immense for those involved in administering the lethal injections, calling it an “emotional rollercoaster.”

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